Nurturing Engineering Talent

Published: May 30, 2003

Connecting Ideas
Heather Rhodes '02 is completing her master's in chemical and biochemical engineering.
Heather Rhodes ’02 is completing her master’s in chemical and biochemical engineering.

Nurturing Engineering Talent

A few months into her new job as a chemical engineer, Heather Couvillon Rhodes, a May 2002 UMBC graduate, easily sums up her enthusiasm for her new profession: “Engineers have the opportunity to take knowledge and apply it to real-world problems.” Rhodes is employed by the Department of the Army, Aberdeen Proving Ground.

In fact, Rhodes began applying the knowledge she learned in favorite subjects such as math and science to real-world problems long before graduation. As a co-op student at the Indian Head Naval Surface War Center, she worked to design rockets, warheads and rocket launchers for the U.S. Navy.

“In high school I was good in math and science and it was a natural for me to major in engineering,” says Rhodes. She received full-ride scholarships from UMBC, Cornell and Virginia Tech. She chose UMBC for its proximity to co-op and career opportunities in Baltimore and Washington.

When Rhodes came to UMBC she found supportive mentors and female role models in the sciences. Jill Randles, the 2002 recipient of the UMBC President’s Commission for Women Achievement Award, was Rhodes’ engineering advisor her first two years at UMBC. “She supported and challenged me during what was a very challenging first semester academically. She was the rock that held many of us together,” says Rhodes.

Rhodes founded WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) at UMBC to encourage and support other women in science and engineering fields. The organization helps students connect with professionals in the field through talks and networking. “Many women and girls don’t know about engineering,” explains Rhodes. “My advice is to follow your natural interests; connect with successful engineers through groups such as WISE. They can be a resource and source of inspiration for you.”

“Taryn Bayles [chemical and biochemical engineering lecturer] continues to be an inspiration for me,” says Rhodes, “I’m completing my master’s in chemical and biochemical engineering through UMBC’s combined bachelor’s/master’s program, and her door is always open to students.”

Rhodes credits undergraduate research experiences and faculty mentors for nurturing her talent for problem-solving. She conducted an independent research project on an imaging system for pressure-sensitive paints in Assistant Professor Lisa Kelly’s (chemistry and biochemistry) lab. Rhodes presented her findings, which will have applications in aerospace, aviation, automobiles and medicine, at UMBC’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day.

“Professors at UMBC really care about students—how they think and how they solve problems” says Rhodes. It’s this initiative and these problem-solving skills that impress Rhodes’ supervisors in her new job and current undergraduate engineering students. She currently serves as an advisor to Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority members.

What are Rhodes’ future plans? After she completes her master’s degree this December, she is considering applying her knowledge to an M.B.A. program or law school. “I’d like to develop my management skills while staying technical,” adds Rhodes.

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